Un Chien Andalou (aka Andalusian Dog ) (1929): Bunuel and Salvador Dali’s Seminal Surrealist Short

After his apprenticeship with Jean Epstein, Luis Buñuel  directed a 16-minute short, Un Chien Andalou, with Salvador Dalí.

Financed by Buñuel’s mother, the film consists of a series of startling images of a Freudian nature, starting with a woman’s eyeball being sliced open with a razor blade.

Un Chien Andalou, arguably the most famous and infamous short film ever made, was enthusiastically received by the French surrealist movement of the time and continues to be shown regularly in film societies.

The script was written in six days at Dalí’s home in Cadaqués.

In a letter to a friend written in February 1929, Buñuel described the writing: “We had to look for the plot line. Dalí said to me, ‘I dreamed last night of ants swarming around in my hands’, and I said, ‘Good Lord, and I dreamed that I had sliced somebody or other’s eye. There’s the film, let’s go and make it.'”

In contrast to the approach taken by Jean Epstein and his peers, which was to never leave anything in their work to chance, with every aesthetic decision having a rational explanation and fitting clearly into the whole, Buñuel and Dalí made a cardinal point of eliminating all logical associations.

In Buñuel’s words: “Our only rule was very simple: no idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted. We had to open all doors to the irrational and keep only those images that surprised us, without trying to explain why.”

Buñuel’s intent was to outrage the self-proclaimed artistic vanguard of his youth, later saying: “Historically the film represents a violent reaction against what in those days was called ‘avant-garde,’ which was aimed exclusively at artistic sensibility and the audience’s reason.”

Against his hopes and expectations, the film was a popular success with the very audience he had wanted to insult, leading Buñuel to exclaim in exasperation, “What can I do about the people who adore all that is new, even when it goes against their deepest convictions, or about the insincere, corrupt press, and the inane herd that saw beauty or poetry in something which was basically no more than a desperate impassioned call for murder?”

Un Chien Andalou is a silent film, but during the original screening (attended by the elite of Paris art world), Buñuel played a sequence of phonograph records which he switched manually while keeping his pockets full of stones with which to pelt anticipated hecklers.

After the premiere, Buñuel and Dalí were granted admittance to the tight-knit community of Surrealists, led by poet André Breton.